By Helen Cherry
And for final Jeopardy: "What is the number one question asked at the CMA Information Desk?” The answer is….. “Where are the restrooms?” Yes this may not be the most interesting question the volunteers answer each day but for those in need it may be the most important. Where are Monet’s “Water Lilies”, Picasso’s “La Vie”, “Twilight in the Wilderness” by Church and “Stag at Sharkey’s” by Bellows come in close behind.
The Information Desk was started in the early 1960’s. Manned or should I say “Ladied”, by what was then called the Junior Council (now The Womens Council), legend has it that a card table, chair and a notebook of reference materials were its humble beginnings. Today it is a large granite desk attended by 105 women, men, and couples ranging in age from 30 to 90+ handling 1560 shifts per year, answering questions and phones with the help of a computer and knowledgeable guards. Our oldest volunteer is Mina Kulber whose father was invited to the opening of the museum in 1916.
Jane Shapard has volunteered for 50 years at the desk. Former Director Robert Bergman used to occasionally show up behind the information desk on weekends wearing blue jeans, a leather jacket and cowboy boots to meet and help visitors, many had no idea who he was.
The first few minutes of a shift are a race to get up to speed on new exhibits, classes and who to call with questions, then the volunteers are off and running. Knowledge of the other University Circle Institutions, local restaurants, hotels, downtown, hospitals, freeways and shopping areas is also very important.
Visitors from all over the world come through the doors with questions and language barriers can be a problem, with the help of staff members and other visitors every question gets answered. Comments are always welcome. In the early years when the taxicab companies had trouble finding University Circle, volunteers would drive desperate guests to hotels, hospitals and Rapid Transit.
Some well-known people sighted coming thru the doors from the desk are: Mick Jagger, Drew Carey, Robert DeNiro, and Senator Alan Simpson. But to the volunteers at the Information Desk every visitor is a star.